“When mother earth is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” Native-American activist Klee Benally shouted to the crowd.
Participants in Saturday’s rally demanded protection of the Colorado River watershed by opposing what they termed “dirty energy,” including a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River.
The rally was part of Earth Day events that began April 24, when activists and Native-American tribal leaders and elders from the Colorado River Indian Tribes spoke out against the nuclear facility during a community forum at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. The events were sponsored by a variety of groups, including Living Rivers, Uranium Watch, Canyon Country Rising Tide and Peaceful Uprising.
Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, said the Colorado River Indian Tribe elders in attendance were part of a successful 1999 campaign against a nuclear waste dump proposed in California’s Ward Valley, which opponents said would have placed toxic material several miles from the Colorado River.
At the two events, speakers from the Colorado River Indian Tribes — which include Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo people — stressed the importance of protecting the rivers.
Colorado River Indian Tribal Council secretary Amanda Barrera said the tribal council passed a resolution in November formally opposing the proposed nuclear plant because tribal officials believe it will ultimately threaten water quality and quantity for those who live downstream.
Blue Castle Holdings, the company that plans to build the plant, has been granted the right to utilize approximately 55,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River, should the proposed plant become operational.
“It’s not to be returned,” Barrera said. “It can’t be.”
Aaron Tilton, president and CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, said findings by the Utah State Engineer and the district court judge in Emery County that water quality or quantity would not be affected by the nuclear power plant support the position Blue Castle has made from the beginning.
“In our analysis, the water use at that plant would have less than an inch change 95 percent of the time,” Tilton told The Times-Independent. “There’s about 4 million acre-feet of water that goes through the Green River [annually].”
Tilton said Blue Castle Holdings is currently preparing the nuclear power plant’s applications, which include federal environmental permits that must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
“All the different things related to the site and the environment will be submitted to the NRC ... and they will determine if the site meets suitability requirements,” Tilton said.
Emery County Commissioner Keith Brady said he believes top climate scientist and environmental scientists support the development of nuclear power as an alternative to energy created by fossil fuels and wind and solar options.
“They support nuclear power because it’s more consistent than wind and solar,” Brady said. “There’s no pollution. The technology and safeguards that we have now can monitor any type of a leak.”
At the April 24 forum in Moab, Dave Harper, chairman of the Colorado River Elders Committee, said taking water out of the river during times of drought simply does not make sense. He said the tribal leaders met with Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison last week, proposing that the city council take a formal position against the Blue Castle Project.
“Here we are at Moab, Utah, with a proposed nuclear facility two miles from the river using thousands of gallons of water in a drought season that’s been a drought for the past five, six, seven, eight years,” Harper said. “How sensible is that, to create a facility that’s going to take all the water for energy ... We’re pushing the mayor of Moab to come out and take a position of ‘no.’”
Sakrison said he plans to bring up the issue at a city council meeting “soon.”
Harper said if the Moab city council does not take a stance regarding the nuclear power plant, “that’s a decision too.”
Barrera also argued that Moab’s main economy — tourism —will be greatly impacted by a nuclear power plant.
“I want to commend you guys for fighting it,” said Barrera at the community forum. “You’re the first town to get hit once it hits the Green River. Your tourism will be impacted, just like ours will.”
Tribal council member Johnson Fisher asked the community “why would you want a nuclear power plant next to the river? Why would you want to scare the tourists off?”
But Emery County Commissioner Brady emphasized that the number of jobs created by the Blue Castle Project — which Tilton estimates at 1,000 — would benefit Emery and Grand counties.
“With the jobs that will come in it will be tremendous for our town, our county, and even Grand County, with as many employees as it takes to build as well as to operate,” Brady said. “I am for it — I think it will be good for our counties and our country.”
Benally called the project “nuclear madness.”
“I stand before you to advocate abolishing all nuclear energy and weapons and to leave radium in the ground,” he told community members at the forum. “Shut down Green River [nuclear power plant]. No more Fukushima.”
Tilton said he welcomes protesters’ concerns, and his company will address any issues brought forward.
“We’re glad that they’ve spoken and they come out and voice their concerns, because it allows us time to address it,” Tilton said. “Nuclear power has been around since 1957, it’s very safe and is a very good partner for the surrounding communities.”
But Benally said people must stand up for the environment.
“As long as we live in a society that values mother earth as a commodity, we’re going to have these conflicts,” said Benally. “As long as the commodification of nature exists, this is going to be a war against mother earth and her people.”